After learning more about the revitalization efforts happening in East Chattanooga, I decided to take a walking tour of the street art on Glass Street. On my way home, I was driving down Chamberlain
Avenue and noticed a large red brick build-
ing sitting vacant. My friend told me it used to be a factory that made children’s clothes. Could you tell me more about it?
Your friend is right! That building used to house a hosiery mill that changed names and ownership several times over several decades, but was best known for producing children’s clothing under the label “Buster Brown.”
Who is Buster Brown, you ask?
Buster Brown was a comic strip character created by Richard F. Outcault around the turn of the century. An impish, well-dressed young boy, the kid hero made mischief for his elders with the help of his talking dog, Tige. The Buster Brown comic strip was wildly successful – so successful in fact, that executives across the country began to see the rewards of licensing products under the Buster Brown label.
Around the same time Outcault was dreaming up Buster, the hosiery industry was expanding rapidly in Chattanooga. That’s when a team of local businessmen under the leadership of W.B. Davis opened an East Chattanooga hosiery mill. The building you drove past was that hosiery, and in 1906 it purchased the rights to the Buster Brown label.
Renamed United Hosiery Mills in 1916 from its original Davis Hosiery Mills (Davis traded his stock in the Chattanooga mill for one in Fort Payne), the Chattanooga facility spent its early years manufacturing only hose and socks. However, it would eventually become one of the nation’s largest juvenile clothing makers. With the coming of the post-war baby boom, the company expanded its apparel lines to children’s playwear. The result was that it hit an all-new high in profitability. Many Chattanoogans will recall the old ad campaigns from the ’50s and ’60s that called upon wise mothers to dress their children “from toe to crown in Buster Brown.”
The factory changed names several times again as the years went on – it became Skyland International in 1965 to reflect its global reach, then Buster Brown Apparel in 1983 when it was acquired by Gerber – but continued to produce clothing and act as a major local employer until the 1990s. Then in 1998, the plant closed its doors for good as the U.S. textile and apparel sector began to plummet.
The 235,000-square-foot building is now on the market, and civic leaders are working to build interest in its future potential. Who knows? The revitalization you speak of on Glass Street might just lead to another exciting chapter in the building’s storied history.
Hope this helps,
Resident History Hound